Only 6% of nations provide for their citizens in an ecologically sustainable way in terms of carbon sequestration and water consumption, according to a study by researchers at The Ohio State University, which analyzed the needs of 178 nations using the framework of planetary boundaries and the concept of a “safe and just operating space.”
Researchers at The Ohio State University have developed a framework to measure how effectively countries around the world provide adequate food, energy, and water to their citizens without exceeding nature’s capacity to meet those needs. Their findings reveal that only 6% of the 178 countries surveyed provide all their citizens with ecologically sustainable resources, including carbon sequestration and water consumption.
While 67% of the countries operate safely and sustainably in regard to water use, only 9% do so in regard to carbon sequestration or greenhouse gas emissions reduction. The United States provides for its citizens regarding water use but is not doing so sustainably when it comes to carbon use.
RELEVANT SUSTAINABLE GOALS
The concept of a “safe and just operating space”
Published in the journal One Earth, the study’s framework uses the system called the framework of planetary boundaries and the concept of a “safe and just operating space.” It identifies a country’s ecological ceiling, or the limit of human activities that reduces the risk of irreparable damage to the Earth.
The study found that 37% of countries cannot provide for their citizens safely and sustainably regarding carbon sequestration, while 10% lack this ability regarding water.
According to Bhavik Bakshi, co-author of the study and a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio State, for a country to be self-sufficient, its population needs access to food, water, and energy resources that can only be provided by the surrounding ecosystem. However, human activities tend to have unintended side effects such as global warming and ozone depletion, making it imperative that society develops sustainably. In addition, countries need to secure resources to meet the basic needs of all their citizens to be socially just.
“Most engineering disciplines traditionally ignore the role that nature plays in supporting our activities and more broadly, our well-being,“ said Bakshi, who has been working to advance the concept of sustainable engineering – the practice of designing products or systems with nature-positive decisions in mind – for decades. “In this study, we sought to ensure we could quantify these challenges in a way engineers could use to make better decisions.”
This study’s framework was created using a system called the framework of planetary boundaries and the concept of a “safe and just operating space,” which identifies a country’s ecological ceiling, or the scope human activities must work within to reduce the risk of causing irreparable damage to the Earth.
The study’s results imply that nations could secure the necessary resources they need to thrive at much lower demand levels than current levels suggest. This could be achieved by adopting more renewable energy resources, introducing more plant-based diets into food cycles, and changing the way we produce certain goods and services to develop a sustainable circular economy.
The study offers hope in combating the environmental risks of human development. It suggests the framework could guide technology, policy, and trade decisions to assist nations in meeting their needs in a more sustainable and just fashion.